It had been years since I had undertaken a trip to the Mt. Wellington area near Licola in the East Gippsland high country.
Rugged valleys and spectacular 360° views from the mountain tops, are just a few of the highlights for the traveller to this area.
I carried out a bit of a pre-trip on the Melbourne Cup weekend a few weeks prior to the trip, but, typical of the changeable weather in the high country, the conditions were some of the worst I have ever encountered.
It had poured with rain and was trying to snow on Mt. Wellington.
Due to fog, visibility was virtually only three to four car lengths, so I was not able to check some of the planned route, such as Billy Goat Bluff Track.
I don’t like surprises when running trips, especially on steep and potentially challenging tracks. So not being able to drive the whole route was a nuisance to me.
The plan was to meet at Licola and travel to Mt. Wellington and surrounds on the Saturday.
Saturday night we were to camp at Horseyard Flat on the Moroka Road
On Sunday, we would visit The Pinnacles fire tower and head down Billy Goat Bluff Track.
The trip was to end on Sunday afternoon in Dargo. The route would take in some medium to harder tracks and provide some challenge for the drivers and vehicles.
I was able to arrange the Friday afternoon off, so planned to get to Licola mid to late afternoon and stay at the Licola Caravan Park for the night.
Helen Tompkins was to come along as my passenger and she was also able to get Friday afternoon off.
I met up with her around lunchtime and we packed the Defender.
Helen prepared the food for the weekend, which meant we were going to eat extremely well. Her reputation for producing great food is well known and I was not to be disappointed.
After reassuring Rocky that Helen would not be mentally scarred by travelling in a Defender, we headed off.
The weather forecast for the weekend could not have been better with mid 20s predicted.
We arrived at Licola about 3.30pm and booked into the caravan park. The Licola store owners were as helpful as ever and directed us to our site.
The Pajero Club had booked all of the unpowered area (they were undertaking fence rebuilding in the area) so we stayed in the caravan section.
This worked out well, as it was quiet with a pleasant shaded area for us to camp.
Greg and Noelene arrived a little later, followed by Paul. We enjoyed a pleasant evening, chatting and checking out Greg’s newly acquired 100 series and Paul’s Prado.
Saturday morning we were greeted with a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky and a cosy temperature. One could not ask for better.
Brendan and Gillian arrived just before 9.00am and our contingent was filled.
Around 9.30am, we headed off up the Tamboritha Road. The road follows the Wellington River and we a number of pleasant camp sites was noted along the first 10 kms of this section of the road.
The surrounding mountains tower over the winding road, with spectacular rocky outcrops jutting out from the hills above.
The initial stretch is bitumen, but changes to good quality dirt just after the Wellington River bridge.
It was here we stopped to reduce tyre pressures.
The road climbs steadily up the hills to the Tamboritha Saddle and the Bennison Lookout.
As we climb, there are fabulous views looking back into the valley to the south. You could see the devastation caused by the fires which have ravaged the area in recent years. Fortunately, the bush is slowly recovering.
At Bennison Lookout, we stopped to take in the view and put the cameras into action. Across the way, we could see Mt. Wellington and The Sentinels, which we were to visit later on.
From here, we travelled on to Arbuckle Junction, where we turned right on to Moroka Road. Shortly after, we stopped at McFarlane Saddle for morning tea.
Splashes of purple wildflowers dotted the area as we turned on to the Mt. Wellington Track. Like many in this area, this track is subject to seasonal closure. So always check to make sure access is available.
The track to Mt. Wellington in not particularly long, but is a little rocky and steep in places. It is in good condition and has obviously been improved since I last travelled it some years ago.
Low range is required in some sections, as the track winds its way to the summit. Along the way, you are rewarded with expansive views.
The track crosses a flat plain, which is devoid of trees, before the final short, steep climb to the trig point on top of Mt. Wellington.
Here we stopped to take photographs of the 360° views of Gippsland to the south and east and the mountains to the west and north.
The sky was clear and with not too much haze. I think everyone found the view worth the drive.
On the Melbourne Cup weekend, it was two degrees, fog bound and trying to snow, and the track more like a river. Don’t you just love the High Country?
From Mt. Wellington, we headed off to Miller’s Hut, around thirty minutes further along the road, for lunch.
It is nestled in a protected, tree lined gully and would be a welcome relief on a hot summer’s day. Alas, it does not have toilets.
You can camp here, but it can be boggy if wet and space is a little limited.
My plan after lunch was to head further south to The Sentinels at the edge of the Mt. Wellington Plain. This rocky outcrop overlooks Lake Tarli Karng many hundreds of metres below.
I was not able to pre-trip this section prior, but the last time I travelled this track, it presented no problems, although it was rough in sections.
A vehicle passed through and on down the track while we were enjoying lunch. It had not returned, so that meant the track was probably clear (or he was stuck!).
The convoy headed off and cleared the first water obstacle of the trip, a short section of boggy mud. It was after this, things started to go a little pear shaped for me.
The track started to close in on the vehicles. Given the tracks had only been open for a few weeks, the track still had all of the winter and spring growth. Added to this, the track is probably not heavily used at the best of times.
My major concern was that Greg’s paintwork on his ‘Cruiser (he calls it pink) was in very good condition and Paul had a black Prado which is not very old and very, very shiny.
Their vehicles, as well as Brendan and Gillian’s, were wider than the Defender. Unfortunately, I thought the track would open out, but it didn’t.
I thought we might be able to turn around, but we couldn’t. To make matters worse, the track became quite rocky in sections, which I thought might create problems for Paul’s rather low slung Prado.
But we got to the end of the track. I noted a bit of unplanned bush pinstriping and all the brush marks in the dusty paintwork of the cars. Paul’s Prado especially, which was not a good feeing. He was very good about it.
The 600 metre walk to the lookout over Lake Tarli Karng also proved to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated.
In the past, the walking track was visible, but the fires of recent times had resulted in new growth saplings growing everywhere. The old walking track was totally obscured.
Eventually, we reached the lookout after much backtracking and scrambling over rocks.
While the view was good, I’m not sure it was worth the effort involved.
As it had warmed up during the afternoon, the extra effort meant a cool drink was mandatory when we got back to the vehicles.
We then had to face driving out along the same section of track. I would not recommend this track if you are fond of your paintwork. You could spend many hours with the scratch remover getting the scratches out.
Either that, or buy a Suzuki.
After heading back to the Moroka Road, we turned right and headed towards Horseyard Flat, our campsite for the night.
Although a little overgrown in parts, there is plenty of space for groups and a single drop toilet is available.
We enjoyed a pleasant evening camped next to the Moroka River, recounting the adventures of the day and pondering which wife was going to dispatch her husband when she found the black paintwork had been pinstriped!
On Sunday, we woke to a dry, but slightly overcast morning. Some fog began to roll in, which I feared would block the view from The Pinnacles fire tower, our first destination a few kilometres up the road.
Fortunately, while there was fog about, the fire tower was clear. Unfortunately, the Wonnangatta Valley below was hidden by a fog/cloud layer.
We could see mountains above the cloud, but there was a fluffy white glowing cloud below the tower. The whole scene was quite spectacular, even though we could not see the valley below.
The tower was a slightly challenging walk away. The short, steep track follows a thin ridge with spectacular drop-offs either side.
The new tower, built after the fires, looked impressive against this backdrop. Plenty of photographs were taken.
The next part of the trip was to descend Billy Goat Bluff Track to the Wonnangatta Valley. It looked as though this could be a challenge. The track to be negotiated, disappeared into the cloud layer.
Billy Goat Bluff Track descends 1200 metres in 7 kilometres and, by its nature, is steep.
It provides sensational views on the drive down, but is barely two vehicles wide. Passing other vehicles coming up can be a real problem.
I hoped the views would not be obscured by the low clouds.
The turnoff to the track is only a few kilometres from The Pinnacles car park. I had not driven it for at least five years and had not been able to pre-trip it due to the extremely poor weather a few weeks prior.
I knew some improvements to the track had been made in recent years, but I also know conditions change from year to year.
After a briefing of what to expect, we started down the track.
Five hundred metres down the track we encountered our first obstacle – a washed out rock shelf.
While all vehicles could have got past this, I was not sure if there was worse to come.
Paul was understandably concerned about the underbody clearance of the Prado. If there was more of this type of obstacle, he would be lucky to get down without doing damage.
Further, if the track deteriorated, we might not be able to turn the Prado around and get it back up.
The trip had been listed as Medium to Hard, so Paul was prepared for the fact that he might not be able to complete the track.
After discussion, it was decided that Paul would reverse the way he came and meet us in Dargo, while we continued down the track.
I did not like the idea of splitting up the group, as this presents problems in itself. I gave Paul a spare map of the area I had and we exchanged mobile numbers so we could leave messages when reception was available.
The rest of the group built up the shelf with rocks and we carefully negotiated it without incident.
Unfortunately for Paul, this was the only major obstacle for the entire track. The rest was in the best condition I have encountered on this track.He could have made it without any problems.
The Defender performed extremely well in this type of country. However, traversing the rock shelf was difficult.
It has what is termed an “anti-stall” feature. I was aware of it and prepared for what the vehicle was likely to do.
The problem was I wanted to step down the rock shelf very slowly. This meant a gentle application of the brakes at times.
The problem is that, in this situation, what the Defender does is extremely unsettling. The vehicle tries to resist the application of brakes by driving “harder”. It thinks it is going to stall.
The harder one brakes, the harder the car drives. A little scary to say the least.
If you don’t brake, the vehicle wants to accelerate if the revs drop too low. If you brake, the vehicle drives harder again.
The Land Rover does not need this feature and, while others like it, I think it is too dangerous in steep country.
Having said that, it is probably good for going up steep hills.
We squeezed past a number of other vehicles on their way up the track. Some had low clearance and some had nearly bald tyres. I don’t know how they were going to get over the rock shelf.
Fortunately, the cloud had lifted and we had clear views all the way down the track.
A morning tea stop at the helipad was welcomed as a chance to rest the vehicles and take some more photographs.
Without further incident, we completed Billy Goat Bluff Track. It is definitely low range first/second territory.
Turning right, we followed the valley into Dargo for a late lunch. Paul arrived later after adding a few more bush pinstripes from the back tracks to Dargo.
Greg, Noelene and Paul were to stay the night at the Waterford caravan park. The rest of us had to return to Melbourne. So after lunch, we said our goodbyes and set off for home.
Overall, the weekend went fairly well. The weather was exceptional and could not have been better for such a trip and the mountain views were fantastic.
The tracks provided some challenge, although it was unfortunate that The Sentinels end of the Mt. Wellington Track was a little overgrown and caused some grief.
Paul was disappointed he was not able to drive down Billy Goat Bluff Track, a track he has always wanted to traverse.
Next time you see Greg, Noelene, or Paul, ask them about gas decanting procedures for leaking 100 series gas tank valves after filling up. They have an interesting story to tell about their trip home the next day.
Thanks to all for coming along and providing great company.
Oh, by the way, Helen was not mentally scarred by travelling in a Land Rover. In fact, she assisted with driving duties on the way home.
I don’t think she will rush out and buy one though.
Report: Adrian Morris
Photos: Adrian, Gillian and Greg
Adrian Morris & Helen Tompkins – Land Rover Defender
Greg & Noelene Moore – 100 series Landcruiser
Paul Trouse – Prado
Brendan Jones & Gillian Adams – Patrol